PITTSBURGH, Pa. — Third baseman Pedro Alvarez has been putting in early work in the cages, working on his swing with hitting coach Gregg Ritchie. And over the past several games it looks like the hard work is starting to pay off. The Pirates faced a lot of criticism for starting Alvarez in the Majors, despite a rough spring training, instead of sending him to Triple-A to get work in. Although it’s a small sample size during the young 2012 season, the patience is encouraging.
“Time will tell,” Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle said. “If you want to read my mail, there’s not a whole lot of us [that believe in him]. The most important part is the ones that are making the decisions. We’ve got patience. And it takes courage to have patience in challenging times. Whether it be with an individual, whether it be for our offense. Whatever it might be. We live in a very reactive society. This game can be very reactive. You got to believe it what you believe in.”
Alvarez started the season in Pittsburgh going 1-for-24 in his first eight games overall. But the third baseman has been swinging a much better bat, hitting .286 (6-for-21) with three runs, three home runs, five RBI, a walk and a double over his last six games.
“I’m just very thankful for the opportunities that I’ve been getting. I’m just really going out there trying to take full advantage of them. I’m just going out there and competing,” Alvarez said. “It’s just a matter of going out there and competing. Just trying to keep it as simple as possible.”
The third baseman hit two long balls in the doubleheader at PNC Park on Wednesday. The first came off the Colorado Rockies right-hander Juan Nicasio.
“It was a 1-1 changeup. I really wasn’t looking for anything,” Alvarez said. “I was just going out there trying to see the ball and just put a good swing. Not trying to do too much with the ball and put good contact on the baseball.”
“It’s just a matter of going out there and truly trying to compete. Just trying not to over think, over-analyze situations. Try to keep it as instinctual as possible. I think when you go out there and you just try and trust your abilities, just try to play the game, everything just kind of takes care of itself.”
Alvarez hit a second homer — which followed Garrett Jones solo blast, in game two of the doubleheader — off the foul pole in right field. The 24-year-old also went opposite field by launching a double just a few feet shy of a third home run on the day in the seventh. It bounced off the wall in left for a two bagger. Alvarez finished 2-for-4 in game two.
“Everything about this game is repetition,” Alvarez said of getting his first hit off a lefty. “The more looks I get, the more comfortable I’ll be able to get. It’s just going up there and just try to compete, try to battle, put some good swings. Just try and square up the baseball. Not try do more than what I can do.”
“I’m encouraged enough that I keep putting him in the lineup. You want to see tangible evidence. We all do. He does. And [Wednesday] was a very good day for him. He put together some very good at-bats,” Hurdle said. “I’m sure a little bit of it is confidence. When you click a ball, ‘Okay. I can do this.’ You know you can do it. But when you click one, you click another one, ‘Okay. I got this.’ It’s a better feel. We are slaves to success sometimes mentally. Nothing breeds confidence in this sport like success.”
To start the 2012 season, the Pirates went with a platoon situation at the infield corners to sit Alvarez against a lefty starter. But Hurdle said he will pick and choose the lefty arms Alvarez will face. He has faith that Alvarez can be an everyday player in the big leagues.
“Everybody will take the homers, especially on an off-speed pitch, to hold his ground, get the barrel to the ball. That’s what we’re looking for,” Hurdle said. “We want Pedro to be a full-time player. He’s going to be. We’re just trying to work him through and pick spots. He’s faced a couple left-handed starters as well. It’s not like we’re dodging them all. We’re trying to be smart with it.”
Tabata Watching Video to Get Back Swing
Right-hander Jose Tabata has had a rough start to the new season. The right fielder said that he has been watching video tapes from last season in order to find the swing that he had. Tabata finished with a .266 clip over 91 games in Pittsburgh last season.
“I’m working on my swing,” Tabata said. “I’ve been watching old videos [from] last year. I’m trying to find my swing. My [strength] is to center field, right field. In the beginning I was trying to do too much. It’s what I’m working on now. I’m feeling better.”
Tabata said he also been doing a lot of early work in the cages with hitting coach Gregg Ritchie. Over his last four games, Tabata has looked much better at the plate going 6-for-15 and has reached base safely in all seven of his home games at PNC Park.
“[Ritchie] is helping me because everybody knows my swing is to right field,” Tabata said. “I’m working everyday in the cage. Just taking it one day at a time.”
“You encourage them to just go play the game,” Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle said. “When you get into the batters box, it’s time to compete. Keep it simple. Hit the ball hard where it’s pitched. I know it sound easy, but speaking as somebody who’s played the game, it can be challenging at times. We continue to try and take them back to a simpler way.”
“He’s been watching video since day one. Maybe finding something on the video can take some time. I think there was a lot of movement. I think he was trying to generate some power through bigger moving parts, which does work very well for a guy of his compact stature. We just kept feeding him tape when he was swinging the bat well. Hands are more in the middle of his body, quiet, taken back, lowered, stay inside the ball, hit it the other way. Those are things he’s showed us that he’s been able to do. The last three games, the at-bats have cleaned themselves up well.”